Poster campaigns may have been overshadowed by new media, such as Twitter, and the televised debates. Claire Beale reports
back in September 2007, barely two months into his prime ministership, Gordon Brown did the unthinkable. He hired Saatchi & Saatchi, the advertising agency that for three decades had been synonymous with iconic Tory advertising. For the unelected Brown it was a defining moment in his attempts to distance himself from the spin of the Tony Blair era and establish himself as a credible, if unglamorous, leader: Saatchi's first task was to produce a poster with the line "Not flash, just Gordon".
Calling in the Saatchi troops was an audacious move for the new PM, and a symbolic challenge to the opposition, which was then in the middle of its own hunt for an advertising agency. By spring, the Tories had hit back with their own advertising coup, drafting in M&C Saatchi - the agency which houses what's left of the crack ad team that brought Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979 with the legendary "Labour isn't Working" poster. With M&C working alongside the Tory's other agency Euro RSCG and with the Liberal Democrats appointing Iris to handle its communications, advertising has been a key weapon in this campaign.
But after months of strategising, portfolios (and wastepaper baskets) full of creative ideas, and millions of pounds spent buying advertising space, did this election's ads really influence the outcome? From David Cameron's baby smooth face on the Tory poster campaign back in January, mercilessly spoofed by Labour supporters on the internet who accused the Tory leader of airbrushing his policies as well as his picture, to Gordon Brown's disturbing grin alongside lines like "I took billions from pensions, vote for me" and the Lib Dem's mock party, the Labservatives, will any of it have made a difference?
Privately, the advertising agencies involved in these campaigns will admit that their role is to provide material - images, sound- bites, policy memes, speeches - to generate debate, not to come up with a killer ad that changes the course of the election. Though that would have been nice. This has not been an election of iconic advertising, of cut-through, game-changing creativity. It has been an election of stunts, online parodies and fast turn-around, knee- jerk ads that have made the most of the speed and flexibility of digital posters and the internet.
As far as the big ad campaigns go, this has not been a high- spending election. Communications budgets for both the Labour party and the Lib Dems have been, even on the most generous of estimates, in the very low millions of pounds, enough for only a handful of key poster sites and a smattering of press ads from which they have hoped to generate PR in the national media. …